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Limited Cost Study Finds NCLB Underfunded

On March 2, 2005, the Connecticut State Department of Education released a limited study of the state-level administrative costs of implementing NCLB. A study of the related local administrative costs is due to be released in April 2005. The study was admittedly narrow and failed to consider the costs of raising student achievement to the 100 percent proficiency required by NCLB. It found that the total cost of implementing the administrative aspects of NCLB through fiscal year 2008 will be $112.2 million, of which the federal government is expected to provide $70.6 million. Therefore, Connecticut faces a shortfall of $41.6 million.

Specific Costs Studied

The study focused on seven different components, including: standards and assessments; development and administration of the NCLB testing system; transfers and supplemental educational services (SES); and others. The study employed an “activity-based” methodology that examined the costs of specific tasks undertaken by Department of Education employees in order to comply with NCLB. This methodology was developed by the Denver-based firm of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Connecticut conducted the study in conjunction with a consortium of 12 states brought together by the CCSSO. CCSSO requires that the identity of the other states remain confidential.

Costs Not Studied

This study does not assess the cost of narrowing the achievement gap, i.e. of bringing students to the level at which they will pass state academic standards. As the report points out, “NCLB does not mandate prevention/intervention/school reform actions prior to a school’s or district’s failure to meet AYP [adequate yearly progress].” Therefore the costs of prospective programs proven to narrow achievement gaps, such as preschool, are not examined in this analysis. In fact, in the afterword Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty Sternberg expressed her opinion that instead of complying with these administrative components of NCLB, the additional $41.6 million would be better spent on programs that would address the achievement gap. She stated that she preferred to use the money in “much better ways – ways that would truly leave no child behind.”

Commissioner Sternberg’s comments echo the observations of education finance expert William J. Mathis in an April 21, 2004 Commentary in Education Week. There, he remarked that “If we embrace the moral principle that no child is to be left behind, haggling over the costs of program administration is the least important of questions…Instead, our abiding question should be what it costs to teach the children.”

Testing and Technical Assistance Top the Cost List

The two most costly areas were standards and assessments, and technical assistance.

The analysis found that the cost of developing individual grade level standards, previously done in grade clusters in Connecticut, and the development and administration of new tests for NCLB would total $41.6 million dollars through FY08. Connecticut has been testing students for twenty years in grades 4, 6, and 8. Now, under NCLB, the state must develop and administer tests in grades 3, 5, and 7 as well. Under a state law passed in June 2004, Connecticut has prohibited the use of state funds to develop and administer any new tests required by NCLB.

In January 2005, Dr. Sternberg requested a waiver from the additional tests, explaining that additional tests will not tell her something she does not already know about struggling schools in the state. She expressed her preference for fewer and better tests, tests that would be “instructional tools rather than accountability indicators.” The U.S. Department of Education denied that request on February 28.

The second highest cost item was technical assistance to those schools and districts judged “in need of improvement.” That cost totals $18 million through fiscal year 2008. Connecticut has estimated that as NCLB progresses, more schools will fail to make AYP, from the current number, 93, to 167 in fiscal year 2006, and still more in fiscal year 2008. Most other states have made similar predictions.

Recommendations

The report concludes that NCLB is underfunded and makes two recommendations (1) seeking additional funds for NCLB implementation, especially for the two most costly items, and (2) reallocating existing funds. In the meantime, the report makes clear that Connecticut is investing in research-proven initiatives, independent of NCLB, which it believes will narrow the achievement gap. These programs include: preschool, after-school programs, class size reduction, and summer school or summer leadership activities.

Prepared by Wendy C. Lecker, March 14, 2004